Does Catholic Social Teaching Require Ever More Government Regulation?

15

President Trump’s pledge to reduce regulations on our economy has led to panic among some Catholic scholars and prelates, who imply that Catholic social teaching calls for ever more government regulation. According to a recent story in Our Sunday Visitor, for instance, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy treated the president’s promises of deregulation as “imminent threats”—as the result of an “erroneous autonomy” that denies the “dignity of the human person and the common good.”

These claims misrepresent both the nature and content of Catholic social teaching. It’s not a partisan political platform. Nor is it a cudgel with which to beat your political opponents and to silence debate. It provides a set of general principles—such as subsidiarity, the common good, human dignity, and private property—that must be applied to concrete situations, and refracted through prudential judgments about science and economics on which faithful Catholics disagree.

You can spend the next year reading papal encyclicals and the Catechism, and you’ll never find the principle “more regulation good, less regulation bad.”

Since 2008, our economy has been burdened with over 20,000 new regulations. This added some 572,000 pages to the Federal Register. Did these new regulations move America closer to the Catholic ideal? Were all of them required by Catholic social teaching? Is any call to reform any of them a denial of human dignity? To ask such questions is to answer them.

When Regulations Attack

In fact, it would be embarrassing if Catholic social teaching did contain such a preferential option for government regulations. After all, regulations aren’t generic commodities. Some are good, some are bad, and some are indifferent. So how do we tell the difference? By studying the consequences, rather than the stated intentions of their advocates. For instance, if an anti-pollution law keeps a paper mill from polluting the water of land owners nearby, by aligning the incentives of all involved, with less drag on the paper market than any live alternative, then it’s probably a good regulation.

Unfortunately, the fiscal, moral, and cultural costs of many regulations exceed their benefits. The takings provision of the Endangered Species Act, for instance, encourages land owners to destroy rather than preserve habitats for endangered species.

Many of our eighty means-tested welfare programs encourage idleness rather than work, and single rather than married motherhood for recipients. Indeed, to judge from its long-term effects, President Johnson’s War on Poverty might just as well have been called the War on the Poor. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act added a work requirement to just one of these programs. Opponents howled that it would create an epidemic of homelessness and poverty among single mothers and their children. Instead, they found jobs, dignity, and a way out of poverty.

Under President Obama, however, even that modest reform was undone, while work requirements for food stamps were waived away in 2009 as part of Obama’s “stimulus” program. As a result, the program has exploded, especially among ABAWDs—able-bodied adults without dependents. Our government “safety net” should encourage and, if needed, subsidize work. Instead, it often does just the opposite.

The barrage of well-meaning “affordable housing” regulations added in the decades leading up to 2008 eroded the underwriting standards in the mortgage market, played a key role in the 2008 financial crisis, and encouraged vice rather than virtue among developers, mortgage lenders, and loan recipients. The Dodd-Frank Act, which was supposed to help prevent another such crisis, created a subtle preference for banks that were already treated as too big to be allowed to fail, to grow even larger and more protected.

The regulations added just since the beginning of 2008 have cost our economy almost a trillion dollars. That affects real people who need real jobs. According to one study, there was a net increase of 421,000 new businesses from 1992 to 1996, and 405,000 from 2002-2006. In contrast, 2009, 2010, and 2011 “saw a net loss of new companies year-over-year—the first time in a generation.” The regulatory burden is at least partly to blame.

Mid-sized companies traditionally have sought the cash to expand by going public in an initial public offering (IPO). Now such companies increasingly seek to be acquired by a larger company. This risk aversion is what you would expect when regulations make it harder to launch and then grow new ventures.

And do I really need to mention the Affordable Care Act, with its egregious ‘HHS mandate,” which, if left in place, would have compelled the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide abortifacients and contraceptives in their health insurance program? Talk about a bad regulation.

So, must good Catholics support every deregulation that President Trump proposes? Of course not. It’s rarely that simple. If we care about our fellow citizens, however, we should take the time to study the real effects of any given regulation, rather than falling for misleading claims that Catholic social teaching treats each new regulation as a good that must be protected.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

Share.

About Author

mm

Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is an Assistant Research Professor in the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America, Executive Editor of The Stream and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @FreemarketJay.

15 Comments

  1. I wonder where a person with the Twitter handle @FreemarketJay stands on government regulation and Catholic social teaching.

    • Exactly where I would expect a Professor in the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America (or any university) to stand on it.

      Regulation inhibits the marketplace.

      • The Church is quite clear in saying that maximum efficiency in the marketplace is not our highest good and that the marketplace needs to be carefully regulated to protect higher human goods.

        JPII:
        “Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress? …
        if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative” Centesimus Annus, 42

        • So you agree with the author of the article, Vincent, in that regulations must be judged on a case by case basis and on a more holistic approach to their costs, benefits and effects. And you would disagree with those who simplistically claim that more regulation is good and less is bad.

          Excellent reference to CE.

          Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

        • VINCENT – the quote you posted has conditional “if statements.” It is not a sweeping condemnation of capitalism by St. John Paul II. He states capitalism is negative WITHOUT a strong juridical framework which places it in the service human freedom would be negative. He’s actually describing the American experiment with capitalism which puts human freedom, both religious and ethical, at its core as a good.

    • Speaking of “teaching” at St. Joseph’s University, a private, coeducational Catholic university, located in Philadelphia. There is a Professor David Perry teaching there who radically speaks out against Trump to our children. He told many students “they shouldn’t open their hearts to white Trump supporters” and “people are going to die”, “President Trump is going to kill people”, he then refuses to shake the hand of a FOX NEWS reporter and refused to answer any of his questions. The news station then reached out to the university recievibg no response… Further, our local catholic high school (where I WAS going to send our youngest son) will not be inviting President Trump to visit as they have other Presidents in the past. Including Obama who apparently “detested” the catholic faith. This takes me back when I taught religion to first-graders in the Catholic Church our family attended. My husband taught teenagers; he came to me one afternoon and told me the teacher who was working with him announced to the students “abortion was ok”. I’m increasingly frustrated with the Catholic Church.

      • Some Catholic Schools in this country are becoming liberal and atheistic. We have allowed these “confused”and ” agnostic” Catholic professors to teach our kids to become later anti-Catholic later. It is sad.

  2. “Under President Obama, however, even that modest reform was undone, while work requirements for food stamps were waived away in 2009 as part of Obama’s “stimulus” program. As a result, the program has exploded, especially among ABAWDs—able-bodied adults without dependents. Our government “safety net” should encourage and, if needed, subsidize work. Instead, it often does just the opposite.”

    One day, the fine Republicans at CatholicVote will need to get their lies in order. Wouldn’t it make sense that if the US economy was in the tank, that food stamp usage would be high, and ABAWDs wouldn’t be able to find work? Gee, what has CatholicVote said about the economy for the last 8 years?

    https://www.catholicvote.org/barack-obama-the-poverty-president/

    “Today’s Labor Department report that 720,000 Americans have left the labor force is further proof of President Barack Obama’s total indifference to the sufferings of millions of Americans looking for work, said Brian Burch, President of CatholicVote.org.”

    https://www.catholicvote.org/five-take-aways-from-yesterdays-midterm-election/

    The economy continues to underwhelm, you said.

    https://www.catholicvote.org/donald-trumps-path-to-victory-runs-through-catholic-america/

    Only the rich are benefiting from the economy

    https://www.catholicvote.org/we-endorse-2/

    Our economy needs to be revitalized.

    I could go on, but you get the point.

    What kind of people who follow Catholic teaching would be criticizing poor Americans’ access to nutrition assistance during this never-ending awful economy of ours?

    Pick one of your lies and stick to it. It’s only fair.

  3. Christ commanded His Apostles: “Go and TEACH all nations.”

    Another of Christ’s sayings: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.

    Archbishop Charles Chaput expresses this command very clearly in his book of the same name.”

    Jesus needs individuals to be His Hands, His Feet, to be Jesus to others.

    Catholic “Social Justice” may quickly become regulators of who gets what and when – giving POWER to the State, taking from the POWER of the Individual -giving freely from the heart….

  4. Rendering as appropriate to God and Ceasar does not say or even imply, that competence in one area equals competence in the other although the quality of performance in government does lead many to believe they could do as good or better job. Since many people, including and especially those in government, have not the faintest notion of real capitalism and its origins and operations, it is understandable that seeking answers through the application of many government nostrums is attractive. Unfortunately the negative outcomes general outweigh the positive.

  5. Francis Jacobson on

    I’m skeptical about Dr. Richards statement:

    The 1996 Welfare Reform Act added a work requirement to just one of these programs. Opponents howled that it would create an epidemic of homelessness and poverty among single mothers and their children. Instead, they found jobs, dignity, and a way out of poverty.

    I read Richard Lemieux’s book “Breakfast at Sally’s” and had a chance to meet him. He said, at the time he published the book in 2005, that there were more homeless people in the United States since the Great Depression. He saw whole families who were homeless, something you might expect in Brazil but not here. In a talk he gave earlier this year he said that there were homeless people in his hometown of Urbana, Ohio. When he grew up there were none.

    Mr. Lemieux was once an active Republican, but after experiencing homelessness and meeting homeless people he can no longer call himself one. So, I cannot take Dr. Richards’ comments on faith because a first hand account seems to dispute his assertions.

Leave A Reply